06 Apr

Haunted Heart

Written by

(Arthur Schwartz)
Arranged by Russ Case
Analysed by Robert Walton

Back in the days of 78 records some of the best numbers would have slipped through the net if it hadn’t been for the phenomenon of B sides. Many of them were so beautiful they often musically outshone the hit itself. Hence the practice of meticulously checking both sides. So I was assigned to the “Case!”

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(Arthur Schwartz)
Arranged by Russ Case
Analysed by Robert Walton

Back in the days of 78 records some of the best numbers would have slipped through the net if it hadn’t been for the phenomenon of B sides. Many of them were so beautiful they often musically outshone the hit itself. Hence the practice of meticulously checking both sides. So I was assigned to the “Case!”

One of the first such discs that caught my attention was the unforgettable Haunted Heart from the Broadway musical revue “Inside USA” on the reverse of Bing Crosby’s A Bluebird Singing In My Heart on Australian Decca. I really fell in love with that song - a song as strong as Schwartz & Dietz’s better-known Dancing In the Dark. And of course it helped the way Bing crooned it. But what I couldn’t get my head around was the fact it was so under-recorded, especially instrumentally. However over the years the song gradually became so renowned that everyone wanted to get in on the Haunted Heart act. These include Vic Damone, Bill Evans, Guy Lombardo, Jane Monheit and Renée Fleming but I’ve got news for the vocalists. It had all been done before and much better. Bing Crosby of course and Perry Como accompanied by no less than the star of this article, Russ Case.

However the real hero of this song had no competition whatsoever - Jo Stafford - pop singer extraordinaire who absolutely out-sang everyone, even opera singers who dared to have a go at this virtual “aria”. I would love to hear Stafford tackle a few real arias by Puccini or Verdi.

So let’s hear Russell D Case’s gorgeous arrangement of Haunted Heart played by his orchestra. It contains all the nuances and subtleties of a most distinguished song, nothing clever but just a simple, straightforward orchestration of a tune that asks for nothing more. I think tenderness is the word that covers it perfectly. A marvelous blend of oboe, horn and strings start the track leading into this evocative melody, with rubato playing a vital role in the first section. After a deliberate stop the piece goes into a Latin American tempo. With perfect restraint the brass adds a certain piquancy to the finished product followed by a close and personal bassoon. The whole thing might take just over two minutes but what pure pleasure a single light orchestral number can bring.

100 Greatest American Light Orchestras - 3
Guild Light Music GLCD 5253

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23 Feb

Sailing By - 25 British Light Classics

Written by

Iain Sutherland Concert Orchestra
Alto ALC 1392 (79:30 mins)

Tracks incl. The Dambusters, By the Sleepy Lagoon, Coronation Scot, Sailing By, Devils’ Galop, Vanity Fair, Spitfire Prelude, Headless Horseman, Intermezzo - Escape to Happiness, and Jamaican Rumba

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07 Feb

At last, the Farnon filmography mysteries solved.. almost

Written by

The classic Robert Farnon discography is one of the great triumphs of musical research from the pre-computer days, when collating information about a composer's life & works was nothing short of damned hard labour (many's the hour I've spent laboriously trawling through catalogues and periodicals at the old National Sound Archive in South Ken)

Read the article here, or in the Robert Farnon Discography section (scroll down).

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by Alexander Gleason

The classic Robert Farnon discography is one of the great triumphs of musical research from the pre-computer days, when collating information about a composer's life & works was nothing short of damned hard labour (many's the hour I've spent laboriously trawling through catalogues and periodicals at the old National Sound Archive in South Ken)

Thanks to the combined efforts of David Ades, Don Furnell, Michael Maine and Alan Bunting, a definitive listing of Farnon's musical works was achieved (and, happily, it's viewable on this site). Likewise, the filmography which was part of that publication (also viewable here) is a fair work of research too, dealing with 25 feature films and the three documentaries ..... AHA! However, there's the problem – not so hot on the docs, I'm afraid. In the boys’ defence, information about documentary films was not readily available in the 1970s, and unlike the discography, the filmog has never really been updated, so I'm pleased to say, I think I can now clarify some (if not all) of the missing info on the short films (not in chronological order)

Firstly there is "This is London" (released in 1956 not 53) made by Associated British Pathe (i.e. Pathe News) for the British Travel Association – a good sturdy London travelogue designed for the American tourist market. Narrated by Rex Harrison – at that time probably America's best known Englishman (My Fair Lady) -- it's a 17 minute lightening tour around the sights of the capital. The score is a big orchestral tour-de-force played by the Symphonia orchestra – with nice title music including the Big Ben motif and a very pleasing bustling shopping theme. Many Farnon enthusiasts will already know this film; it's Bob on fine 50s form. It's been viewable on YouTube for several years now – 'London' and 'Rex Harrison' should be enough for the search box.

That one was pretty straightforward – the next one took me many years to solve. The filmography lists 'Time and Space' produced for Time-Life/Longines date unknown, and I spent far too much time scouring the databases and film library catalogues for that title, to absolutely no avail. Finally, the answer came – again thanks to YouTube.

Just about all the details above turned out to be wrong.

"Travelling through Time" is a 1965 largely animated documentary made for Rolex and PanAm Airlines (odd combination) – it deals with the concept of timekeeping, its history and how it will be adapted for the forthcoming space-age. It looks and sounds American, until you see it's researched and written by E.V.H. Emmett (the voice of Gaumont British News for some thirty-odd years). The score is minimal, but there are a few nice hints of the Farnon jazzy big-band sound, which I'm sure will please many.

'Rolex' 'Pan American' will be quite suitable key-words for a YouTube search

(It is incidentally a sequel to a 50s colour documentary – The Story of Time with a brilliant score by Guy Warrack – also worth viewing if you're interested in watches!)

Finally, 'Red Cross Documentary' (c.1946) remains a work in progress.

For perhaps three decades I have grappled with this one, and I think I have almost got it. I believe it to be a charity appeal short; more like1948 called "Just in Case" with a Farnon orchestral score conducted by Muir Mathieson. The British Red Cross have an archive, but very few films – they do however have this one and with their help, I hope to view it shortly, and will make a further report.

With any luck, after all these years, we will soon have all the Farnon documentary scores sorted out and included in a properly revised and definitive filmography.

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31 Jan

Up With The Lark

Written by

(Robert Busby)
Analysed by Robert Walton

The sounds of nature, and particularly those of birds have always appealed to serious composers. It was Messiaen who religiously notated the songs of all French birds classifying them by region. In his “Pastoral Symphony” Beethoven gives us the nightingale, the quail and the cuckoo. The latter has it all to itself in “On Hearing The First Cuckoo In Spring” by Delius. However perhaps the best known and much loved work in the classical field is Vaughan Williams’ The Lark Ascending.

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(Robert Busby)
Analysed by Robert Walton

The sounds of nature, and particularly those of birds have always appealed to serious composers. It was Messiaen who religiously notated the songs of all French birds classifying them by region. In his “Pastoral Symphony” Beethoven gives us the nightingale, the quail and the cuckoo. The latter has it all to itself in “On Hearing The First Cuckoo In Spring” by Delius. However perhaps the best known and much loved work in the classical field is Vaughan Williams’ The Lark Ascending.

But I believe the most subtle and effective bird compositions are to be found in British Light Music especially around the middle of the 20th century. If you’re familiar with the genre, you’ll know the finest of these were produced by the Chappell Recorded Music Library.

At first hearing, the casual listener might easily dismiss Up With The Lark as an innocuous piece of background music. Certainly in the Queen’s Hall Light Orchestra’s repertoire it’s one of the lesser-known titles simply because it hasn’t got a memorable melody. That may be, but what’s lacking tune-wise is more than made up for in the atmospheric department. It was definitely not an “in-your-face” piece of mood music, so could easily pass you by.

This early 1947 classic offered plenty of clues as to its creator and origins. Above all, Up With The Lark demonstrated Robert Busby’s meticulous attention to detail and total command of orchestration, as well as contributing in no small part to that unique sound for which the Queen’s Hall Light Orchestra is famous. Together with household names like Robert Farnon and Sidney Torch, backroom boy Busby brought his own brand of freshness to the genre. Up With The Lark describes a typical early morning scene when most of us are still sleeping. It’s an understated portrait of “rise and shine”

Something stirred as gentle strings start the proceedings of this very British sounding sunrise, followed by the trumpets that quietly herald a new day with a soft “fanfare” decorated by some industrious woodwind. The strings then come into their own with, what for me, is the defining moment of the whole piece - an all too brief magical moment, free from the confines of conventional form. It’s perhaps depicting the skylark’s downward dive to her nest on the ground, but at the same time trying not to give away its flight path. Now a bouncy little melody featuring the strings ends in two excitable flurries leading back to the opening played by the woodwind. You need to concentrate though because everything happens so quickly. The strings stay with the action with some delightful decoration. The brass returns for a further “fanfare”, while the lark provides another spectacular display of descending precision aeronautics.

Suddenly Up With The Lark undergoes a complete change of mood and direction as brass and strings crescendo up to a higher key. Gradually it dawns on me that the composition, with echoes of Eric Coates is in fact a march....and has a melody! The mood may seem a million miles from this rural/urban scene but on second thoughts it’s probably the ideal rhythm to get up and go. As we near the end of this section, notice how Busby squeezes every ounce of emotion out of the beautifully climaxed tune. But you can’t keep the “fanfare” away for long, because back it comes with flutes, harp, strings and oboe. And proving there’s never a dull moment, the oboe’s solo is cut short making way for a flute trill, followed by an even more dramatic one with string support (similar to the signature tune of Edgar Lustgarten’s “Scotland Yard” series). But it’s straight back to the top for a rerun of that delightful opening dawn chorus.

In the coda instead of a final “fanfare”, we get a sustained brass chord, over which the lark floats back down to earth. This is met by a busy bassoon and the rest of the woodwind. After a string chord provides the first part of a perfect ending, we hear the instrument Clive Richardson was fond of, the haunting vibraphone pipped at the post by the harp.

Up With The Lark played a vital role of an exciting new chapter in the history of descriptive music. Robert Busby’s seemingly effortless brushstrokes show him to be a true pioneer of musical canvasses. It’s so compelling you almost forget the music and become lost in this gorgeous idyll.

Inevitably it’s bound to draw comparisons with Vaughan Williams’ The Lark Ascending, a fifteen minute Romance for violin and orchestra. Conversely Up With The Lark is a two and a half minute hands-on reality check of nature. Perhaps Busby’s piece should be renamed The LarkDescending !

The original recording of Up With The Lark, played by the Queen’s Hall Light Orchestra conducted by Sidney Torch, is available on the Guild CD “String Fever” (GLCD 5150)

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22 Jan

2019 Aspidistra Bank Holiday Afternoon Concert

Written by

The Aspidistra Bank Holiday Afternoon Concert this year is planned to take place on the27th May 2019  at Lauderdale House, Highgate Hill, London N6 5HG, starting at 2:30 pm.

The programme has not been fixed as yet, but details will be added as soon as they are.

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06 Jan

Aled Jones & Russell Watson - In Harmony

Written by

BMG 5053844533 (54:26)

How Great Thou Art, Where Have All The Flowers Gone / Here’s To The Heroes, Cinema Paradiso, You Raise Me Up, Mattinata, Volare, Silent Night, and seven other tracks.

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About Geoff 123
Geoff Leonard was born in Bristol. He spent much of his working career in banking but became an independent record producer in the early nineties, specialising in the works of John Barry and British TV theme compilations.
He also wrote liner notes for many soundtrack albums, including those by John Barry, Roy Budd, Ron Grainer, Maurice Jarre and Johnny Harris. He co-wrote two biographies of John Barry in 1998 and 2008, and is currently working on a biography of singer, actor, producer Adam Faith.
He joined the Internet Movie Data-base (www.imdb.com) as a data-manager in 2001 and looked after biographies, composers and the music-department, amongst other tasks. He retired after nine years loyal service in order to continue writing.